Ben Kopel – a sutra!

Love this poem tonight: The page shows weird on my browser and hides the title: Iscariot Rising Sutra

I guess I went looking for other poems called something or other Sutra in the wake of writing and performing one (Birthday Sutra) at a really beautifully hosted and satisfying reading at The Sutton Gallery in Edinburgh the other night. It was today’s diversionary exercise, seeing whether there was a recognisable ‘sutra form’ coalescing in or deducible from poems so-titled by various authors. I kind of feel that there is. I come back to the wikipedia article sentence on sutras as a religious text, involving a sequence of aphorisms intended for teaching. The ones that I have dipped into, seems to be loose, long (although Ben Kopel’s isn’t) and following a sort of free-wheeling journey of good advice/aspiration/vision ranging through different specific subjects. The context is the moment they’re addressing. A tentative thought, this, I admit.

Anyway, I also, literally just now and this is quite embarrassing, realised that the sutra in ‘Kama Sutra’ is the same meaning of sutra, of course. I didn’t really think of the Kama Sutra as two separate words consciously before now, and I might have been thrown by thinking about it while writing my poem. But of course, the association totally fits, it’s there, and I’m glad for that and whatever mechanics of brains allow these subconscious sleights of meaning to get into the poem before you second-guess yourself and change your mind.

Here’s a wee excerpt from mine, from my Birthday Sutra:


love love love

the elisions of you

the slow boilings of your clouds.

Not not not like

Sochi Sochi Sochi.

More of a creeper than a rhodeddendron

Sochi where Brodsky visited the Cascade Restaurant on new year 1969, ten years before I was born

Osho Osho Osho

A bad Jazz musician with jazzed bad skin

It’s an old school

an old school

sutra sutra sutra

tantric Male power and stalk energy

suture suture suture

self second-guessing always makes me wrong in the

Future Future Future

bewhiles I have time

hoopla hoopla hoopla

for good ideas to come in the bath

youthlike like youth you thlike

Aren’t I an idea now, having an idea? Aren’t we all so

Sufi Sufi Sufi


Reuben Sutton's photograph of Sutton Gallery, Edinburgh reading by Iain Morrison 21/5/14


Hope you enjoyed that excerpt. Now I’m turning my attentions to focus on Berlin, and my Emily Dickinson readings at SOUNDOUT! festival… Heading there on Tuesday. Whee!


Iain Morrison reading @ Verse Hearse (Glasgow. 23rd Oct 7pm)

Hello Poetry-Pickers,

I’m reading again next week. In a foray outside of Edinburgh City limits, I’ll be appearing at Verse Hearse in happening Glasgow. The details for the event are on facebook here. In summary, it’s from 7-10pm at the Rio Cafe in Glasgow’ West End. I’d say more, but would risk sounding like a tourist guide, because the truth is I don’t know Glasgow as well as I’d like, although I’ve been there more times in the two year’s of living back in Edinburgh than I was in the 18 years of growing up here in the first place. I like the sound of this Rio Cafe, I’ll say that much.

I’m sharing a bill with David Kinloch (his website here). I’m looking forward to discovering his work. He sounds very accomplished, with three Carcanet publications under his belt.

And as well as getting to hear us read, you can join in after the break at an open mic section. The word is, it’s good. The night’s certainly run by friendly, good people, Calum Roger and Stewart ‘Sandy’ Sanderson, who wear their intellect with cheeky grins.

Get there early if you want to see me, I think. I’m probably going to read my sequence about the Venice cemetery island, so here’s a taster:


Your life has been as short as a smile

Their photos are bossy and glossy and glum,

or sometimes off-putting and sometimes a character treat. I like best

the ones which show them entirely alive,

though maybe this is perverse and salt in the wound, mud in their eye.

The shots that hurt are those of the mopey, the woebegone gone

or of the glossed, the unmossy young.

The über-specific words

I once read some advice in one of those lists of rules that you can find to spark off or improve a piece of creative writing. It said that if you were writing a song lyric, to connect with and engage the audience you should shy away from abstraction and be really specific.

i.e. You wouldn’t write ‘I remembered his name’,  you would say ‘I wrote David quickly on some fatty butcher’s paper and hid it between the pages of last year’s phone book’.

The advice seemed to me counter-intuitive, but also demonstrably to be true. I mean, I know which one of those given examples I have in my head. I now have an image, a sensation, a false memory perhaps. To be honest, it annoys me when those trite lists turn out to be right or helpful – and I was trying hard there to make my fatty butcher’s paper over the top. Actually, in style, it’s not far off the doodling line, one of my favourites, which comes near the start of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Case of You’: ‘On the back of a cartoon coaster, in the blue of a tv screen light, I drew a map of Canada, with your face sketched on it twice.’

IT TOTALLY KILLS ME. Arrow-to-the-heart, though I’m not Canadian, or living in the 60’s with blue tv-screen light etc. Somehow it lets me perfectly recollect the feeling of nostalgia for something that you know is in the process of ending, even though you haven’t admitted it yet. And I totally do have that feeling. Or at least I feel like I do now….

Perhaps I’d have ventured the thought that writing in the most general terms would allow the broadest ‘experience fit’ with people across a cultural spectrum. But this seems to contradict that – certainly if we’re talking about providing a really strong and lasting connection. Think of The Pogue’s ‘Fairytale of New York’ which wipes the floor with many more even-toned Christmas songs, all sleighbells and glowing tots.

I wondered if maybe there’s a corresponding point here that actually you have to choose an audience, know your audience if you like, and write for them, but I don’t honestly think that stands up. People who have never been booze-soaked bickering Irish emigrés seem to love that Pogues song too.

If I were to tie this over to poetry, I’d say something like the same applies – it’s the specific word which makes a poem lock a reader in its targets. That Nicholson Baker book I blogged about ages ago (the one about a poet making an anthology) listed a few examples of this. The one that stuck in my head was from a poem I didn’t know by Sir Walter Raleigh starting ‘Give me my scallop-shell of quiet’ which proves a completely unforgettable measure of quietude!

If I may be permitted to go further and link in something I’ve written recently, here’s a poem below which is for artist friend Becky Campbell’s publication documenting her recent residency in Athens. I suppose I think of the word ‘slinking’ in this as being the ‘locking word’ –  perhaps it slightly even strikes an off note with me, but I think I like it for that.


Statement [Perfect rhyme]


Something is left hanging

not a question

up in the air past

[which is the near past]


The far past sum

is an undercrust

rather than abrased

[erased rather than razed]


The sayers’ fluency

is the ability of slinking

between the layers.

[The prayers and then their lairs.]